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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
Committed to providing a broad selection of outstanding books that mixes popular appeal with literary excellence, the Books for Youth editorial staff has chosen the titles below as best-of-the-year nonfiction, fiction, and picture books.
Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters. By Jeannine Atkins. Holt, $16.99 (9780805089349). Gr. 6–9.
Written with understated drama and quiet power, this memorable biography in verse explores the relationships of three daughters and their famous mothers.
Fort Mose and the Story of the Man Who Built the First Free Black Settlement in Colonial America. By Glennette Tilley Turner. illus. Abrams, $18.95 (9780810940567). Gr. 7–10.
Well researched and clearly written, this handsome book introduces Francisco Menendez, who lived as a slave in eighteenth-century South Carolina before gaining his freedom and leading an early black community in Spanish-held Florida.
The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe. By Loree Griffin Burns. Illus. by Ellen Harasimowicz. Houghton, $18 (9780547152318). Gr. 6–10.
Fascinating to read, this beautifully illustrated book introduces honey bees, beekeepers, and a dream team of scientists who are urgently searching for the cause of colony collapse disorder, which threatens the bees and, by extension, agriculture.
Lafayette and the American Revolution. By Russell Freedman. illus. Holiday, $24.95 (9780823421824). Gr. 6–9.
Excellent research, writing, and illustrations create a vivid portrait of Lafayette as he matures from an impetuous young man and an inexperienced soldier to a leader capable of wisdom as well as valor.
Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World. By Sid Fleischman. illus. Greenwillow, $19.99 (9780061896408). Gr. 6–10.
In the last book published before his death, in March 2010, Fleischman infuses his thoroughly documented biography of Charlie Chaplin with energetic, tall-tale charm.
They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group. By Susan Campbell Bartoletti. illus. Houghton, $19 (9780618440337). Gr. 7–12.
Bartoletti offers another standout contribution to youth history shelves with this lucid, searing account of the Ku Klux Klan’s formation. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Homefront during World War I. By Ann Bausum. illus. National Geographic, $19.95 (9781426307027). Gr. 8–11.
This informative and provocative book looks closely at the American home front during WWI, when government propaganda led to the persecution of German Americans and the erosion of civil liberties.
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Illus. by Brian Floca. Roaring Brook/Flash Point, $17.99 (9781596433380). Gr. 2–4.
Beautifully capturing the process of artistic achievement, this picture book tells the story of how dancer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and set designer Isamu Noguchi came together to create Appalachian Spring, an American classic.
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. By Joyce Sidman. Illus. by Rick Allen. Houghton, $16.99 (9780547152288). Gr. 3–6.
Combining lyrical poetry, compelling art, and exciting biology, this thrilling, cross-curricular picture book captures the drama of creatures in the dense, dark forest.
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot. By Sy Montgomery. Illus. by Nic Bishop. Houghton, $18 (9780618494170). Gr. 4–7.
Another stunning entry in the Scientists in the Field series from the multi-award-winning collaborators, this title follows New Zealand researchers working to save the magnificent, honey-scented kakapo parrot from extinction.
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse. By Marilyn Singer. Illus. by Josée Masse. Dutton, $16.99 (9780525479017). Gr. 2–5.
Reversos—poems that take on new meaning when read in reverse—supply the wows in this fresh take on fairy tales. Just as ingenious are the split-down-the-middle paintings that weave together elements from the reversible stories.
Nic Bishop Lizards. By Nic Bishop. Illus. by the author. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545206341). Gr. 2–4.
Through captivating color photos and a succinct, informative text, Bishop introduces the surprisingly varied world of lizards, from a thumbnail-size gecko to the venomous Komodo dragon.
Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson. By Charles R. Smith. Illus. by Shane W. Evans. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.99 (9781596434738). Gr. 1–3.
With punchy rat-a-tat verse and swaggeringly stylish artwork, Smith and Evans distill the life and legendary fighting spirit of provocative boxer Jack Johnson, who became the first black heavyweight champion of the world.
Pingpong Perry Experiences How a Book Is Made. By Sandy Donovan. Illus. by James Christoph. Picture Window, lib. ed., $25.32 (9781404857599). Gr. 1–3.
With insider info, retro illustrations, and quirk to spare, this title from the In the Library series explains the publishing process in surprising detail, as young Perry goes from pizza enthusiast to bestselling author.
As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth. By Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow, $16.99 (9780061870903). Gr. 8–11.
Dropped in the exact middle of nowhere, teenager Ry meets up-for-anything Del, and the two plow their way through an increasingly implausible series of mini-adventures and catastrophes on a joyful and eye-opening cross-country trip.
The Curse of the Wendigo. By Rick Yancey. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (9781416984504). Gr. 9–12.
This lush, violent sequel to The Monstrumologist (2009) not only introduces a new beast for the good doctor to quell (the merciless Wendigo) but also offers a deeply satisfying glimpse of an alternate, monster-plagued 1888 New York.
Fever Crumb. By Philip Reeve. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545207195). Gr. 6–9.
The confidently offhand depiction of a ramshackle future sells this droll, imaginative sci-fi, laying the groundwork for Reeve’s Hungry City Chronicles. Young engineer Fever Crumb has been trained to ignore her emotions—tough to do when your lineage is coming to light and nearly everyone is out to kill you.
For the Win. By Cory Doctorow. Tor, $17.99 (9780765322166). Gr. 10–12.
In the near future, teens across the globe are used for cheap labor in virtual-game worlds—until they begin to organize. With passion, intelligence, and understanding, Doctorow delivers a tech-savvy epic.
Heart of a Samurai. By Margi Preus. illus. Abrams/Amulet, $15.95 (9780810989818). Gr. 7–11.
The amazing true story of Manjiro, the first Japanese person to set foot in America, gets sensitive and spirited treatment in this seafaring adventure that touches on prejudice, loyalty, and dividing one’s heart between two disparate lands.
The Marbury Lens. By Andrew Smith. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (9780312613426). Gr. 10–12.
What’s happening to Jack? Suffering from psychological trauma after escaping abduction by a sexual predator, he travels to London, where a stranger hands him a pair of glasses that suck him into an apocalyptic wasteland that can’t possibly be as real as it seems.
Mockingjay. By Suzanne Collins. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780439023511). Gr. 6–12.
The highly anticipated conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy does not disappoint. If anything, it gives readers more than they bargained for—in action, in love, and in grief.
Monsters of Men. By Patrick Ness. Candlewick, $18.99 (9780763647513). Gr. 9–12.
The final chapter in Ness’ devastating, literary Chaos Walking trilogy expands on the series’ massive themes as a triple-pronged war breaks out among the competing factions of human settlers and the native Spackle.
Nothing. By Janne Teller. Tr. by Martin Aitken. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781416985792). Gr. 7–12.
Existential crisis breeds brutality in this mercilessly executed import about a group of kids who decide to strip from one another all that matters most. Relentlessly bleak but possessed of a gut-wrenching poetry.
Pathfinder. By Orson Scott Card. Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, $18.99 (9781416991762). Gr. 8–12.
In a triumphant return to form, Card blends heady science fiction with gripping fantasy to tell a challenging dual story of kids discovering their latent powers and deep-space colonization, embracing the paradoxical nature of time travel along the way.
The Ring of Solomon. By Jonathan Stroud. Hyperion, $17.99 (9781423123729). Gr. 6–9.
In this inventive and riveting adventure, the sardonic djinni Bartimaeus joins forces with Asmira, an idealistic young woman who is determined to steal King Solomon’s magical ring.
Set to Sea. By Drew Weing. Illus. by the author. Fantagraphics, $16.99 (9781606993682). Gr. 8–12.
A hulking, poet-at-heart landlubber finds his sea legs and powers of expression in this graphic novel, which employs a single Popeye-inflected image per page to deliver the gut-punch effectiveness of poetry itself.
The Things a Brother Knows. By Dana Reinhardt. Random/Wendy Lamb, $16.99 (9780375844553). Gr. 9–12.
Set in Boston, Reinhardt’s poignant, memorable story of a young soldier coping with survivor’s guilt and trauma, and his Israeli American family’s struggle to understand and help, is both timely and timeless.
Warriors in the Crossfire. By Nancy Bo Flood. Front Street, $17.95 (9781590786611). Gr. 6–9.
Near the end of WWII on the island of Saipan, Joseph’s native family gets caught in the ruthless fight between the Japanese and American armies. Their intense battle for survival is reflected by their powerful longing for peace.
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. By G. Neri. Illus. by Randy DuBurke. Lee & Low, paper, $16.95 (9781584302674). Gr. 8–12.
Gritty black-and-white artwork combines with real-life sources and an embellished narrative in a graphic-novel portrait of an 11-year-old gangbanger whose brief life is a shameful reminder of America’s inner-city social failings.
The Adventures of Nanny Piggins. By R. A. Spratt. Illus. by Dan Santat. Little, Brown, $15.99 (9780316068192). Gr. 3–6.
Mary Poppins, move over—or get shoved out of the way. Nanny Piggins has arrived in a book that is smart, sly, and marvelously illustrated. Fun! (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
After Ever After. By Jordan Sonnenblick. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780439837064). Gr. 5–8.
Having survived cancer, Jeffrey and his friend Tad battle the aftereffects of chemotherapy as well as the more universal perils of eighth-grade life in this hilarious and heartrending follow-up to Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie (2005).
Countdown. By Deborah Wiles. illus. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545106054). Gr. 5–7.
Wiles takes her historical novel about 11-year-old Franny Chapman’s experiences during the Cuban missile crisis to an impressive new level by adding snippets of songs, speeches, and contemporaneous black-and-white photos to the mix.
The Dreamer. By Pam Muñoz Ryan. Illus. by Peter Sís. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780439269704). Gr. 4–8.
Elegantly illustrated, accessible, and deeply rewarding, this stirring, fictionalized portrait of poet Pablo Neruda’s Chilean childhood has the feel of a classic.
The Last Best Days of Summer. By Valerie Hobbs. Farrar/Frances Foster, $16.99 (9780374346706). Gr. 4–8.
Twelve-year-old Lucy faces difficulties when her beloved grandmother becomes more forgetful and her neighbor Eddie, who has Down syndrome, threatens Lucy’s plans to be popular. Hobbs’ bittersweet novel features real-life scenarios and memorable characters.
Meanwhile. By Jason Shiga. Illus. by the author. Abrams/Amulet, $15.95 (9780810984233). Gr. 4–9.
First readers choose between chocolate or vanilla ice cream, and then they leap back and forth through pages tangled with tubes and panels in this mad-genius, choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel, with the fate of humankind in their hands.
One Crazy Summer. By Rita Williams-Garcia. Amistad, $15.99 (9780060760885). Gr. 4–7.
Set during the summer of 1968, Williams-Garcia’s vibrant, humorous novel follows 11-year-old Delphine and her two sisters to Oakland, California, where they try to reconnect with their estranged mother, a poet with ties to the Black Panthers.
Take Me with You. By Carolyn Marsden. Candlewick, $14.99 (9780763637392). Gr. 4–7.
Set in an Italian orphanage after WWII, this unique and intricately crafted novel tells the story of two very different girls who both want to be adopted.
Tumbleweed Skies. By Valerie Sherrard. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, paper, $11.95 (9781554551132). Gr. 3–5.
Grandma blames 10-year-old Ellie for Ellie’s mother’s death, and the young girl can do nothing right. This spare first-person narrative set in 1954 Saskatchewan tells a heartbreaking family story of prairie dust and silence.
Turtle in Paradise. By Jennifer L. Holm. Random, $16.99 (9780375836886) Gr. 4–6.
Holm draws on her own family’s stories for 11-year-old Turtle’s tale about moving in with relatives in the Florida Keys. Part romp, part steely-eyed look at the Depression era.
The Unsinkable Walker Bean. By Aaron Renier. Illus. by the author. Roaring Brook/First Second, paper, $13.99 (9781596434530). Gr. 5–8.
With panels bursting at the borders with clever takes on seafaring adventure elements, this graphic novel sends a plucky boy hero into a maelstrom of lovable pirates, creepy crustacean sea-witches, and an ancient, cursed skull.
Zora and Me. By Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763643003). Gr. 5–8.
Told in the voice of 10-year-old Carrie, Zora Neale Hurston’s best childhood friend, this first novel evokes the famous African American writer’s early years in turn-of-the-last-century Eatonville, Florida.
Big Red Lollipop. By Rukhsana Khan. Illus. by Sophie Blackall. Viking, $16.99 (9780670062874). PreS–Gr. 2.
Rooted in the experience of a Pakistani immigrant family, this spot-on story of sisters who quarrel with their mother over American birthday-party etiquette will touch siblings everywhere.
City Dog, Country Frog. By Mo Willems. Illus. by Jon J Muth. Hyperion, $17.99 (9781423103004). PreS–Gr. 2.
This story of two animal friends consistently hits the right notes, both in the effective (and affecting) art and graceful, spare story.
Clever Jack Takes the Cake. By Candace Fleming. Illus. by G. Brian Karas. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780375849794). PreS–Gr. 2.
Previous collaborators Fleming and Karas return with an original fairy tale that has the makings of a story-hour classic, relating a resourceful boy’s adventure-filled journey to a princess’ birthday party.
Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion. By Mo Willems. Illus. by the author. HarperCollins/Balzer and Bray, $17.99 (9780061929571). PreS–Gr. 1.
Deeper and more poignant than its predecessors—and every bit as funny—Willems’ finale involves (naturally) the loss of Knuffle Bunny, this time during Trixie’s trip overseas. A heartbreaker about loss and growing up.
Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! By Grace Lin. Illus. by the author. Little, Brown, $14.99 (9780316024525). Gr. 1–2.
Few books for beginning readers are as beautifully designed and illustrated as this one, a collection of six brief stories about sisters Ling and Ting, identical twins with distinctly different personalities.
Miss Lina’s Ballerinas. By Grace Maccarone. Illus. by Christine Davenier. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (9780312382438). PreS–Gr. 3.
Buoyant in spirit and excellent for reading aloud, this picture book tells of a happy ballet school that’s thrown off balance by the arrival of a new student.
Nini Lost and Found. By Anita Lobel. Illus. by the author. Knopf, $15.99 (9780375858802). PreS–Gr. 1.
Nini the striped kitty decides to break free. Her adventure is told with an elegant simplicity and illustrated by endearing artwork that captures emotions in big swirls of color as well as in the tiniest line of a little cat’s upturned lip. (Top of the List winner—Youth Picture Book.)
A Pig Parade Is a Terrible Idea. By Michael Ian Black. Illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (9781416979227). PreS–Gr. 2.
Have you ever thought a pig parade is a bad idea? You certainly will after reading this hysterical picture book. Hawkes’ deliciously down-and-dirty art takes the concept to a whole new level.
Rain School. By James Rumford. Illus. by the author. Houghton, $16.99 (9780547243078). PreS–Gr. 2.
Rumford’s vivid illustrations show the first day of school in rural Chad, where the opening lesson for students is constructing a school building. Eventually, the seasonal rains wash away the school, which will be rebuilt the next year.
Sleepover at Gramma’s House. By Barbara Joosse. Illus. by Jan Jutte. Philomel, $17.99 (9780399252617). PreS–Gr. 1.
It’s hard to imagine a book about a grandmother-grandchild relationship that has more love, heart, and just plain silliness than this adorable offering.
Snook Alone. By Marilyn Nelson. Illus. by Timothy Basil Ering. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763626679). K–Gr. 3.
After being separated from his master on a remote atoll, a terrier becomes a reluctant explorer, finding delight and wonder amid his melancholy. Challenging but gorgeous poetry is matched by equally breathtaking paintings.
There’s Going to Be a Baby. By John Burningham. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763649074). PreS.
Burningham and Oxenbury respin the familiar new-sibling story in this picture book about a young, soon-to-be older brother that brims with warmth, spirit, and imagination.
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